Sir Jagdish Chandra Bose was a multifaceted Indian scientist. He was not only a physicist, biologist, botanist and archaeologist, but also a writer of science fiction. He contributed enormously to plant science, apart from pioneering the study of radio and microwave optics. In 1904, Bose became the first person in the Indian subcontinent to receive an American patent. He was the first Indian scientist to prove experimentally that plants are as sensitive as animals.
This world famous Indian scientist, Jagdish Chandra Bose was born on 30th November 1858 at Mymensingh, Bengal, which is now in Munshiganj district in Bangladesh. His father Bhagwan Chandra Bose worked as a Deputy Magistrate in Faridpur, and was also a leader of the Brahmo Samaj. He was of the view that children must imbibe Indian culture and master the mother tongue before learning English. Hence, he sent young Jagdish to a local school, rather than one of the prestigious English medium schools.
In 1915, speaking at the Bikrampur Conference, Bose said, “At that time sending children to English schools was an aristocratic status symbol. In the vernacular school to which I was sent, the son of the attendant of my father sat on my right, and the son of a fisherman sat on my left. They were my playmates. I listened spellbound to their stories of birds, animals and aquatic creatures. Perhaps, these stories created in my mind a keen interest in investigating the working of Nature. When I returned home from school accompanied by my school fellows, my mother welcomed and fed all of us without discrimination. Although she was an orthodox old-fashioned lady, she never considered herself guilty of impiety by treating these ‘untouchables’ as her own children. It was because of my childhood friendship with them that I could never feel that there were ‘creatures’ who might be labelled ‘low-caste’. I never realized that there existed a ‘problem’ common to the two main communities.
Since childhood, Jagdish was very curious about everything that happened around him. He used to ask his father a number of questions. His father used to answer as much as he knew, but as Jagdish grew older; his father encouraged him to find out the truth himself.
For further education, J.C. Bose was admitted to St Xavier’s School in Calcutta. He stayed in a boarding house. He had no friends and was totally lonely. But being a born scientist, even in his hobbies, we can find the reflection of his scientific interest. In a nearby pond, he used to breed frogs and fish and would observe the activities with keen interest. Bose, in his curiosity would pull out a just germinated plant and observe its roots. He had a variety of pets like rabbits, squirrels, birds and even non-poisonous snakes.
Bose generated interest among his students by conducting scientific demonstrations extensively. He thus became very popular. Some of his students at Presidency College like Meghnad Saha and Satyendranath Bose became famous as academics.
Jagdish Chandra Bose’s work was mainly in radio and plant research. Nobel laureate Sir Neville Mott, while explaining his own contributions to solid-state electronics, quoted – “J. C. Bose was at least 60 years ahead of his time”. To understand Mott’s statement, let us go through the history of radio research during Bose’s time.
In 1893, the first public radio communication was demonstrated by Nikola Tesla and one year later, Bose gave a public demonstration of wireless transmission at Town Hall of Kolkata in the presence of Lieutenant Governor Sir William Mackenzie. Bose ignited gunpowder and rang a bell at a distance, using millimetre range wavelength microwaves. In a Bengali essay, titled ‘Adrisya Alok’ (Invisible Light), Bose wrote, “The invisible light can easily pass through brick walls, buildings, etc. Therefore, messages can be transmitted by means of it without the mediation of wires”. In Russia, physicist Popov pursued the same research and in 1895, he expressed similar hopes for distant signalling with radio waves.
In 1896, Bose impressed the Royal Society of England by writing a research article on electromagnetic waves. He was honoured with the Doctor of Science degree. To continue his work, Bengal helped him with the expenses. Bose was also encouraged by the British government, a rare honour for Indians. He put this to good use. At that time, there was a wrong notion shared by Indians and Westerners that Indians could not achieve anything important in Science. Bose proved this to be wrong and showed that geniuses were there in other countries too. He again went to England to explain his work to the Western scientists.
He became renowned in the world of Science. Praise poured in from various quarters including the ‘Spectator’ and ‘The Times’ of London, for having achieved great results without proper facilities, and with whatever instruments and equipment, which he had made himself. Bose was also invited by scientific associations in Germany, Japan, America and France to explain his achievements.
During the end of the 19th century, Bose switched over from studying electromagnetic waves to the investigation of plant response to stimuli. Bose demonstrated with the help of his new invention – the crescograph – that plants give a response to stimuli, as though they too have a nervous system. He deduced from his experiments that with pleasant music, plants grew faster; whereas in harsh sound or noise, their growth is stunted. He investigated into the mechanism of the effects of temperature, chemicals, etc on plant stimuli. He analyzed these effects and deduced that plants can feel pain and understand affection. Bose proved experimentally that plants have life too. He developed a device to record the pulse of a plant to which he connected the device. The plant along with its roots was dipped up to the stem in a container of bromide, a poison. The steady movement of the device, which recorded the pulse beat of the plant, changed to an unsteady one, indicating the effect of the bromide, and suddenly stopped. The plant was now dead due to the poison.
Bose further found that during the night, plants shrink a little. He also found that plants grow in a slight curve, rather than straight. He revealed that plants have positive and negative charges, which push them forward and backward respectively, which makes the plant slightly curved. Furthermore, he found the reason why the lotus opens up during sunrise and closes its petals at sunset. It is due to a rise in temperature in the morning and a drop in temperature in the evening.
Between 1901 and 1904, Bose submitted a number of papers indicating how the mechanical and electrical responses to stimuli of plants and animals were similar. But due to opposition from physiologists who were afraid that his new findings would be against their established theories, the Royal Society did not publish his precious work in its journals. But in spite of this setback, Bose did not give up his research, which he felt had led him to the truth.
Bose was accorded the honour of Companionship of the British Empire (CBE) by the British Government in 1903. In 1912, he was conferred the Companionship of the Star of India (CSI). He was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science by University of Calcutta. When Bose retired from service in 1915, he was appointed Professor Emeritus.
Bose, who had to struggle for facilities and instruments for several years during his research, had always been thinking of setting up a laboratory. His dream came true on 30th November 1917, when he established the Bose Research Institute. The inaugural song was composed by the eminent poet Ravindranath Tagore.
At the inauguration ceremony he said, “This is not a laboratory, but a temple!” in this Institute, research is conducted in Physics and Botany, the two disciplines of science in which Bose had contributed greatly and had become famous.
The Royal Society in London, which had earlier refused to publish his findings in physiological research, honoured him by electing him as a Fellow in 1920. Banaras Hindu University and Dhaka University awarded Bose with an honorary Doctor of Science in 1933 and 1935 respectively. Bose continued his research in his institute till he died on 23rd November 1937.
Recently, some scientists have come together to give Bose his due recognition as the Father of wireless telegraphy. Bose had not sought a patent for this invention, which Marconi did a year later. Bose was not interested at all in monetary benefits. In this regard, Bose had written to Tagore that there was a great attachment for money in India, and he would not like to be caught in that trap. However, for one of his inventions, on strong persuasion from one of his American friends, Bose got his US patent in 1904. He was the first Indian to receive a US patent.
Bose was the author of a number of books, including ‘Response in the Living and Non-Living (1902) and ‘The Nervous Mechanism of Plants’ (1926). Bose was equally talented in literature. He was the first science fiction writer in Bengali. He was also the President of the Bengali Sahitya Parishad.
Excerpts from ‘World Famous Indian Scientists’
B. E. Mech. (COEP, Pune); P.G.D. – International Trade (IIFT, New Delhi)
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Indeed, their lives, with their sincerity of purpose, along with their grit and determination to overcome all odds and their struggles will serve as role models for the current and future generations who, by and large are not aware of the giant contributions made by these truly great heroes in the fields of science and technology, industry, business, etc. The youth will definitely benefit by reading about these giants in their own fields. Even if a small percentage of our youth and students strive to follow the footsteps of these towering personalities, attempt to imbibe a scientific temper and if these articles instill a sense of patriotism among the youth, these articles will have served their purpose.